The District of Columbia is losing paramedics at an alarming rate and they are not being replaced.
53 have resigned or retired since Kenneth Ellerbe became fire chief in 2011.
It is an exodus that has led to a critical staffing shortage with advanced life support units going unfilled every day.
The firefighters’ union has been sounding the alarm for months, telling D.C. councilmembers and anyone who will listen, the net loss of paramedics has created a “crisis” situation with first responders forced to work 36-hour shifts and advanced life support units left off the streets every single day.
Normal protocol has 14 medic units staffed during every shift. It is a number designed to make sure advanced life support is available within minutes of a 911 call in every ward in the city.
But as paramedics leave without being replaced, those 14 medic units have dwindled.
According to the firefighters union in 2011, two to three Advanced Life Support units were downgraded to Basic Life Support every day.
In 2012, the numbers went from four to five, and so far this year, it is averaging five to six downgrades every day.
“Pretty simply, the basic difference between a paramedic and an EMT is that the paramedic brings the ER to you in the first 20 minutes, so everything the ER can do in those first critical minutes, a paramedic can do for you in the field,” said Paramedic Joe Papariello in an interview Thursday.
Emergency medical technicians cannot administer drugs. It is a vital function in some trauma cases.
“There are a lot of drugs that we can give,” said Papariello, the Union’s EMS official. “Over 30 in our protocols … if you are having a heart attack or you have a broken bone, we can deliver those.”
But as paramedics leave, those services have diminished.
Take for example the month of April. According to the union in April 2011, more than 23 percent of the scheduled Advanced Life Support units were taken off the streets.
In April of last year, it was more than 34 percent, and so far this year, it has risen to more than 42 percent.
“And when we don’t have enough units on the street, units have to respond out of their areas that they are supposed to protect, and it puts a stress on the system and on the individual, and that’s why a lot of our medics are leaving,” said Papariello.
The staffing shortage has also lead to forced overtime. In 2012, according to the union, 185 times paramedics were held over for a 36-hour shift. So far this year, it’s happened 136 times.
Just this month on May 9, the fire department announced in a special order three more firefighter/paramedics had decided to resign.
“We are in a crisis mode,” said Union President Ed Smith. “I mean, in the 90′s when they were closing firehouses, you had firehouse roulette. You didn’t know where the wheel was going to stop. Right now today, we have medic unit roulette and I hope it doesn’t stop on the wrong person.”
On Friday morning, Chief Ellerbe will go before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee where he is expected to testify about his ambulance deployment plan.
He declined our request for an on-camera interview.
In recent testimony, the chief told the council he plans to train current EMTs to become paramedics. But as the union points out, that could take up to two years.
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TV station reports 5 to 6 paramedic ambulances in DC each day lack medics. Staffing shortage subject of hearing today.35 comments
UPDATED – More questions about DC fire department’s readiness: Inspections sideline two reserve ladder trucks. City’s former emergency manager says fleet is a ‘true concern’.20 comments
This evening there are two separate stories questioning the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. In the story above, WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner, who has broken most of the stories about the poor state of the fire department’s fleet, tells us that two reserve ladder trucks recently failed aerial ladder inspections. You may recall Wagner’s previous report that the department did not conduct ladder inspections last year. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Wagner in a statement then that the inspections weren’t done because of a lack of reserve trucks. Now that those inspections are happening, Wagner reports problems are being discovered, including the damaged cable seen below.
At WTOP radio this afternoon, the city’s former director of D.C.’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pete LaPorte, was interviewed about Washington’s ability to respond to an attack like the one yesterday in Boston. LaPorte was asked about the impact of the fire department’s fleet problems on the City’s readiness. Here’s LaPorte’s response:
I think there is a lot of mutual aid but I think it’s a true concern. I believe that the city has a great deal of reserve money right now. and I truly believe it would be a wise investment to reinvest in our fire equipment and resources. You remember after 9/11 there wasn’t a dollar that … couldn’t be had for our response. We literally got all new fire trucks, all new ambulances, throughout the city. It seems like we’ve lost some of that level of response and we certainly need to upgrade it. And I think that would be something that Chief Ellerbe wants to be looking at quickly, is to make a request. To look for a capital investment in the equipment there.
Click here to listen to LaPorte’s entire interview with anchors Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard. For the record, Hillary Howard is my wife.
There are new concerns the D.C. fire department is taking risks with its ladder trucks after two of them failed stress tests this month and were taken out of service.
One of the trucks had frayed steel cables used to raise the ladders into the air.
According to the firefighters’ union, that truck, a reserve that has been responding to emergency calls on Capitol Hill, failed a stress test Monday morning and was immediately taken out of service.
It is a discovery that raises questions about the safety of the entire fleet.
“Absolutely, and unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s the only truck running calls that probably wouldn’t pass an aerial ladder test,” said Union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson. “It’s going to continue to put the citizens and the firefighters who ride it in jeopardy.”
When FOX 5 first aired the union’s concerns on March 18, a spokesman for the fire department said the stress tests had not been done in 2012 because there were no reserves to take their place.
Then two days later, fire officials told the city council the tests had not been done since 2008.
“If the cables snapped, it would have caused a catastrophic ladder failure, the ladder would completely fail … it would have come crashing to the ground,” said Hudson.
The truck with the frayed cables was running calls on the hill because the truck normally assigned to the hill, Truck 7, has been out of service, parked at fleet maintenance on Half Street since early April.
The new reserve taking its place in the firehouse on 8th Street in Southeast D.C. has issues as well.
Photos obtained by FOX 5 show rust and corrosion on the base of the aerial ladder. It is a condition the union feels would likely lead to a failed stress test as well.
Last year, an aerial ladder in Alliquppa, Pa., collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop and seriously injuring a firefighter.
As of March 20, the fire department reported to the city council’s judiciary committee it had 16 trucks and one reserve ladder.
In an email sent to FOX 5 Monday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe confirmed one front line truck and two reserves have been given stress tests since early April, with only the front line truck passing.
The chief said the reserves will be repaired in about two weeks.
On Tuesday, the chief declined an interview request.
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Video: Citizen who lost son praises EMS response but blasts DC firefighters. Tells hearing they are ‘terrorists’ trying to make Chief Ellerbe look bad.58 comments
Alvin Bethea’s testimony in front of the DC City Council on Thursday was overshadowed by the almost three hours of questioning of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander. Other than one mention in an article, I don’t believe Bethea made news, despite the rather outspoken nature of his testimony and an interesting link to an EMS response from 18-years-ago that shows progress made by the department.
At the beginning of his appearance before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public safety, Alvin Bethea had nice things to say about Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the department’s response to two EMS calls he was personally familiar with. One of those calls involved the stabbing death of Bethea’s son a little more than a year ago.
What is probably worth noting in the praise about that response is that Bethea’s son, Deoni Jones, aka JaParker, is described in news articles as a transgender woman. In 1995, a long and ugly chapter in the department’s history was opened after allegations surfaced over poor care and derogatory remarks made when the DC Fire and EMS Department responded to a car crash that took the life of Tyra Hunter, a transsexual. Hunter’s mother successfully sued the City.
But Alvin Bethea then switched gears in his testimony. That’s where the clip above posted to YouTube begins. Bethea talks about attacks on Chief Ellerbe as being “the work of the devil”. He testifies that firefighters are bringing the city “grief” and “intentionally breaking and destroying ambulances and fire trucks and medical equipment”. Bethea likens the firefighters to “home grown terrorists”.
To see the entire hearing and all of what Alvin Bethea had to say, click here (Bethea’s testimony begins at 3:04).
DC update: Chief & dep. mayor on hot seat. Ellerbe apologizes. 58 of 111 ambulances not operational. Firefighters union says fleet status is due to chief’s negligence.34 comments
“Management is absolutely accountable for the problems of this agency, and it goes back to making sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that held Thursday’s hearing.
During several sharp exchanges, department leadership rebuffed characterizations that the issues were widespread, with Mr. Quander laying out plans to address what he referred to as the “isolated” incidents, and the chief adding that he believes the “department’s fleet remains in an acceptable state of readiness for potential major events in the city.”
“Rarely is it about one person. It is about a system and the lack of quality control,” Mr. Mendelson said, later appearing incredulous that the chief had such inaccurate information about the condition of his fleet.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe acknowledged on Thursday that he led his agency for about a year using faulty data about the state of its fleet, and he apologized for repeated ambulance shortages that left the ill, injured and dying waiting for help.
“We were operating with an outdated list,” said Ellerbe, who told lawmakers that current statistics show that nearly half of the District’s 111 ambulances are out of service. “It was inaccurate for approximately a year.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was incredulous.
“I just don’t understand how the chief of the fire and EMS department would not know how many vehicles are available,” Mendelson said as lawmakers continued to absorb a scathing report from the D.C. inspector general that said the department’s fleet was unprepared for a catastrophic emergency.
The chair of D.C. City Council’s public safety committee grilled the fire chief for 2 1/2 hours on Friday during a contentious hearing on whether slow response times and maintenance failures are endangering the lives of sick and injured residents.
Deputy Mayor for public safety Paul A Quander Jr., who sat beside Ellerbe, said the chief needs to move forward with plans to revamp schedules and deployment to keep up with a changing city.
He said the fire service is no longer a “fire department that sometimes handles medical calls, but instead it is a mobile medical hospital agency that occasionally handles fires.”
Nearly half of the ambulances serving the District of Columbia are out of service, an apologetic D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe testified Thursday before members of the D.C. Council.
Ellerbe, who has faced multiple calls for his resignation in the midst of numerous issues facing the city’s fire and EMS response capabilities, said that the equipment problems his department faces are due to them “holding on to things” for too long.
The chief told members of the D.C. Council that just 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service.
For Ellerbe, Thursday’s hearing was an uncomfortable grilling. But for Durand Ford, Jr., it was like ripping the scab off a wound.
His father, Durand Ford, Sr., died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day while waiting for an ambulance. Ford’s death was one of three incidents under the microscope during Thursday’s testimony on slow response times.
At issue is whether the three problems in the last three months are because of a systemic breakdown or if, as Chief Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander contend, unfortunate outliers.
“The events of New Year’s Day are atypical, hopefully never happen again,” Quander says.
More than 100 firefighters called out sick on New Year’s Eve. But the subsequent two incidents involving an MPD motorcycle officer and a stroke patient being transported in the cab of a fire truck are being blamed on an aging fleet and a lack of paramedics.
“Sometimes it takes an incident to realize there are these issues,” Ellerbe says.
Ford, however, calls these problems just an opportunity to punt the blame.
The department came under even more intense scrutiny on March 5 after a Metropolitan Police Department officer had to wait nearly 20 minute for a mutual aide Prince George’s County ambulance to tend to him on after he was injured in a hit-and-run in Southeast.
A recently-released city report indicated that three D.C. ambulances were improperly out of service that night, forcing the need for a Maryland-based unit to respond. The officer finally made it to an area hospital nearly an hour after he was hit.
Seven city employees were disciplined for the inadequate response.
Ellerbe also said that the department had been operating under an incorrect inventory list for about a year.
In response, though, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told Ellerbe that the issues were a “management problem” and that he needs to find a staff that can get their jobs done more effectively.
In a statement released Thursday, Ed Smith, the president of the D.C. Fire Union Local 36, said that the D.C. Fire & EMS Department is living on “borrowed time.”
“Nothing proves Chief Ellerbe’s negligence more than the state of the fleet of reserve ambulances and fire trucks that is supposed to be at the ready at all times,” Smith said. “The fleet is virtually non-existent and has been a key factor in recent well-publicized EMS failures.”
Ellerbe overwhelmingly received a vote of no confidence from the fire union on Monday. Immediately after the 300-37 vote, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander threw their support behind Ellerbe.
“Despite the ‘no confidence’ vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors,” Ellerbe said in a statement after the vote.
His department also faced scrutiny over claims of sexual harassment in February. Numerous cadets told ABC7′s Jay Korff that two training academy instructors repeatedly harassed them.
View more videos at: http://nbcwashington.com.
Only 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified before a city council committee Thursday.
Ellerbe added that the District only has 245 paramedics, well short of its target of 300. Even that number is less impressive than it appears since Ellerbe disclosed that not all paramedics do field work or receive calls.
The failure to provide an ambulance to a police officer injured in a hit-and-run and two other incidents — including the death of a man who died while waiting for an ambulance — have raised questions about whether the department has enough resources to handle the emergency call volume in the fast-growing city.
Those three incidents, all within 90 days of each other, prompted the hearing, said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.
Ellerbe apologized during Thursday’s testimony. “I’d like to offer my sincere apology to the families,” he said. “I’m deeply troubled … I accept responsibility.”
The chief also apologized for misinformation on the department’s inventory of vehicles, saying that the department had faulty inventory records for a year.
An internal investigation had blamed individual employees for the slow ambulance response — but the District’s inspector general has also found a lack of adequate reserve vehicles, both ambulances and fire trucks. At any given time, only 39 ambulances are active in the District.
Ellerbe told the Council committee Thursday that although “the audit is still ongoing,” he promised to overhaul the way their fleet is managed by bringing in a “fleet consultant.”
Due to current shortages, Advance Life Support ambulances are routinely downgraded due to a lack of paramedics on duty, Ellerbe said, adding “The problem is not fixed.” A final assessment of the inventory of D.C. Fire/EMS is still 30 days from completion.
Ellerbe’s testimony comes three days after the city firefighters’ union overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing no confidence in his leadership. When asked following his testimony whether he could guarantee no more ambulance delays in the District. Ellerbe told News4′s Mark Segraves that he could not.
D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander testified Thursday that Ellerbe has “worked tirelessly.” However, Wells did not seem convinced by the testimoney, telling reporters following the hearing that he was “not satisfied” with Ellerbe’s responses, “deeply concerned with the dwindling number of paramedics,” and convinced there is a “systemic” problem with D.C. Fire and EMS management.
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UPDATE – IG report on reserve fleet has columnist again asking what did the fire chief know & when did he know it?33 comments
Much has been made in recent weeks about the readiness of the reserve fleet of fire trucks and ambulances operated by the DC Fire & EMS Department. Yesterday the DC Office of the Inspector General posted its report titled “Deficiencies Observed in the Repair and Readiness of Reserve Vehicles”. It does not paint a pretty picture on the department’s state of readiness.
It was sent to Mayor Vincent Gray yesterday. The fire department has had it, according to the cover letter, since February 19.
Alan Suderman, AKA Loose Lips at the Washington City Paper, uses the report to revisit the theme of what did the fire chief know and when did he know it? (previous Loose Lips column about timeline):
On Feb. 19, Ellerbe received an initial management alert report from the Office of the Inspector General saying that “many vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out-of-service and could not be used if needed as frontline replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or for large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events.”
A day later, Ellerbe testified before the Council’s public safety committee and made no mention that the information about the reserve fleet he submitted may have been inaccurate.
On March 13, Fox 5′s Paul Wagner reported on allegations made by the fire fighters union that the department was improperly counting fire trucks that had been sold or been out of service for years as part of the department’s reserve fleet. Right after the story aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanking it for “bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.”
Council member Tommy Wells, whose committee received the bad information, told Suderman he is going to give Chief Ellerbe a chance to explain the timeline but said it “does not look good”. No response from the chief on this issue.
But the inspector general’s report, which highlights some of the same deficiencies in the reserve fleet, was delivered to the fire chief the day before the hearing. It was released to the public on Friday.
“It certainly undermines my confidence in the management of the fire department,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the council’s public safety committee and presided over the hearing. “If they used the information that they provided me that said the reserve trucks are available when they’re not even in the District of Columbia and we don’t even own them anymore, then that tells me there’s a massive breakdown of administrative competence.”
Ellerbe said in a statement that he was already implementing the report’s recommendations and that the department was in the process of purchasing new vehicles, including ladder trucks and ambulances.
A new report by the D.C. inspector general is painting a dim picture of the readiness of the D.C. fire department and questions whether it can answer the call in a mass casualty incident.
The report found major deficiencies in the reserve fleet of trucks, pumpers and transports, and describes a dysfunctional operation.
This report, which was given to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on February 19, the day before he appeared in front the D.C. City Council, says the department had not come close to meeting its own emergency plans and many of the vehicles designated as reserves were listed as out of service.
The report slams the condition of the fleet and questions the quality of the repairs it receives.
The investigation into the fleet and its maintenance began in January of last year when an inspector took a look inside a warehouse on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
Inside, according to the report, were supposed to be ten reserve engines, eight reserve ladder trucks and two reserve rescue squads.
Instead, the report says the investigator found two engines that would not start, a ladder truck that would not start, and one being worked on in the driveway.
As for the rescue squads — there were three – but one that wouldn’t start.
The report also says the department’s emergency plan calls for 12 battalion reserve engines. But over the course of the seven-month investigation, the most ever listed was five.
The ambulances were another matter. Of the 31 listed in reserve, at times there were none, at other times there were just two, and the most the investigator found were 14.
On Thursday when FOX 5 asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety about the ladder trucks in reserve and the readiness of the fleet, this is what he had to say.
“I received a report recently that we have a reserve fleet,” said Paul Quander. “And I don’t mind going out with you. And if we need to count one by one, we count one by one. I think that’s the best way to put this matter to issue. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not. Let’s go and see. Let’s go and count.”
It’s unclear if Quander had seen this report at the time of our interview. The inspector general says it was emailed on March 21.
The report goes on to say, “The limited documentation available and the overwhelming sentiment expressed to the OIG team by employees at all levels indicate that such deficiencies are real and negatively impact the day to day availability of both frontline vehicles at many fire stations and the vehicles in reserve status designated to replace them.”
“There is no planning,” said Union President Ed Smith. “It’s all fly by the seat of your pants and the citizens are suffering and my members are put at risk every day when they get out there on the rigs.”
A week ago Wednesday, FOX 5 first reported the union’s claim the reserve numbers given to the D.C. City Council in February were false and that apparatus claimed as in the reserve fleet had actually been sold or placed out of service.
Later that night, Chief Ellerbe issued a press release thanking the union for bringing the issue to light.
“It is poor management at the top and it alludes to that in this report,” said Smith.
One of the more eye opening facts in the report points out that Truck 3, the tower truck that would be first due to the White House, was repaired 138 times from January of 2009 to May of 2012. It is a number the inspector general decided to highlight.
Chief Ellerbe answered the report with a press release saying the department was already moving ahead with the recommendations of the inspector general and would report back in 60 days.
Latest from DC: Preview of findings in EMS delay. Details on why three ambulances didn’t respond to police officer down.83 comments
Reading the latest news accounts, it appears today’s regularly scheduled press conference should include some questioning of Mayor Vince Gray about the DC Fire & EMS Department. On Monday, with no comments coming from Chief Ellerbe or Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, a spokesman for Mayor Gray said the previous administration “neglected” the fire department leaving the city “unprepared”. It is expected, according to news accounts, that there will be a release of findings at today’s event of why no ambulance was available to take a seriously injured DC police officer to the hospital two weeks ago. Details of that investigation are already out.
FOX 5 has obtained the initial findings of an investigation into the March 5th ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer.
Sean Hickman waited at least 20 minutes for an ambulance that eventually came from Prince George’s County. The Sixth District officer was on a scooter when police say he was intentionally run over by a man in car.
Sources familiar with the investigation say two ambulances should have been able to respond, but did not for reasons still unclear, and a third may have gone out of service by mistake.
The findings are expected to be made public Wednesday morning at the mayor’s bi-weekly news conference.
Sources familiar with the investigation say when the initial call for service went out at 6:36 p.m. that night, one ambulance was in quarters east of the river and near the scene of the accident, but did not respond even though the crew was told to monitor the radio.
Sources say Medic 27 went out of service for equipment trouble and parked at a fire house on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast D.C. when the call for the hit-and-run came in.
The crew went out of service at 6:27 p.m. after reporting problems with two batteries in a piece of equipment on the rig.
At 6:36 p.m., an engine with a paramedic was dispatched to the hit-and-run at 46th and A Streets in Southeast while communications searched for an ambulance.
Sources say a second crew, Medic 19, was at Howard University Hospital and asked for a delayed response back to quarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and went out of service at 6:34 p.m. after being also told to monitor the radio.
The call for the hit-and-run came in two minutes later.
A third crew, Ambulance 15, went out of service for 53 minutes from 6:26 p.m. to 7:19 p.m.
According to the crews’ own account, it was a mistake. They entered the wrong information into the rig’s computer and put themselves out of service.
20 minutes after the initial call for help went out, Ambulance 15 was still parked at a fire station on New Jersey Avenue, NW.
“It was a computer error,” says Union President Ed Smith. “They lost them in the system. Once the employees realized there was a problem, they self-reported the problem and then they were dispatched on another run.”
Smith says the firefighters realized their mistake when they heard a call for service over the radio that should have been given to them.
“They heard a run coming out that they thought they would be responsible to take and that’s when they realized there was a problem and self-reported to dispatch,” said Smith.
Sources familiar with the report say 39 ambulances were on duty that night, with nine out of service at the time of the call for the injured officer.
The investigation has discovered six of those transports were legitimately out of service with mechanical problems.
On March 5th a D.C. Police Officer—a victim of a hit-and-run—laid in the street for nearly 20 minutes with a broken leg before he was finally taken to the hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
In a report set to be released later Tuesday, sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC7 they found that 39 ambulances scheduled on duty that night, nine of those were listed as “out of service.”
Of those nine ambulances, six had valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.
One crew did not log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But, the other two were considered in “delayed relief mode,” and had been told to “monitor the radio,” and should an important call come, they were told to respond.
ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS union officials, who say, the two crews in question never heard a call for a dispatch.
Regardless of what led to the confusion, district residents told ABC7 that something needs to change.
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Like Mayor Vince Gray, Washington Post Editorial Board has confidence in Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. Supports EMS redeployment & shift change.37 comments
Even with, or possibly because, of all the bad press and self inflicted wounds of the last few weeks, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post gave its own vote of confidence to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. In an editorial posted online last night and in today’s print edition, the Post supports Chief Ellerbe’s idea of EMS redeployment and the proposed move away from 24-hour shifts for firefighters. The editorial gives the indication those are the solutions to what ails the DC Fire & EMS Department. The editorial does not cover any of the recent issues about the disrepair of the department’s fleet of ambulances and fire trucks and the questions surrounding Chief Ellerbe’s handling of that issue.
Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of the editorial:
Demand for ambulance service drops off at 1 a.m. and doesn’t pick up again until about 7 a.m. D.C. fire and emergency medical officials argue it makes sense to move some crews and equipment that are sitting idle to times when they are needed. The fact that such a common-sense change has yet to happen is testament to the dysfunctional politics that have brought the department to what Kenneth B. Ellerbe, chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, called a “tipping point.”
Mr. Ellerbe makes a strong case for breaking with tradition in how the department schedules and deploys its staff. The mission of the department has changed as the result of advances in building safety and fire prevention; more than 80 percent of calls are for medical emergencies, not fires. There is no understating the importance of firefighters or the considerable risks they take, and they have raised issues that bear scrutiny. But decisions about the direction of the department should be made by those in charge, based on what best serves public needs.
Is it fraud or mismanagement? DC Council member asks for another IG investigation following testimony of Chief Ellerbe on mechanics’ overtime.29 comments
The DC Fire & EMS Department seems to remain in the news these last few weeks with stories that linger. This one comes out of last week’s testimony by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe at a City Council hearing. Council member Tommy Wells has, for the second time this week, called for an inspector general’s investigation of the department. Wells wants to get to the bottom of an overtime list of mechanics at the department’s shop that became part of the questioning of Chief Ellerbe during the hearing. Reporter Matt Ackland at WTTG-TV/Fox5 has the story:
Why are D.C. Fire and EMS mechanics working so much overtime? Councilmember Tommy Wells wants to get to the bottom of it.
This week, Wells sent a letter to D.C.’s Inspector General asking for an investigation.
Wells told FOX 5, “It’s either mismanagement or fraud.”
Questions were raised last week when a report of the top overtime workers in the department was released. The top overtime earner, who works as a mechanic, made nearly $98,000 in overtime in 2012.
Wells also says there is a concern about worker safety if mechanics are working so much extra time around heavy equipment.
Council member Wells also wants the inspector general to look at sexual harassment complaints made by DC Fire & EMS Department cadets. Wells cited differences in accounts by the media and Chief Ellerbe as behind his call for the investigation.
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DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe says two recent news stories aren’t accurate. Sends out press releases on training academy sexual harassment & provides a timeline on New Year’s ambulance delay story.5 comments
Yesterday evening Lon Walls, communications director for the DC Fire & EMS Department, sent out press releases on behalf of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe that described two recent news stories about the department as inaccurate. One is Chief Ellerbe’s detailed response to a story broadcast by WRC-TV/NBC 4 way back on February 8 about a bill for services to the family of a man who died on New Year’s Day. There was a lengthy wait for an ambulance in that case because of staffing shortages. For the first time since the incident occurred, the department has issued a detailed timeline. Click here for the release.
On this page are the two follow-up stories the TV stations did in reaction to the press releases from Chief Ellerbe. Above is the video from the Training Academy story and below is what was published on WRC-TV/NBC 4‘s website about the ambulace issue:
D.C. Fire and EMS released a statement Thursday explain what happened early New Year’s Day, when a man died after waiting for an ambulance.
Durand Ford Sr. waited 30 minutes for an ambulance as he was having trouble breathing and that ambulance came from Maryland, according to his family. While fire officials acknowledge a delay in getting an ambulance to the scene, they said a paramedic was on scene providing appropriate care in 10 minutes.
According to D.C. fire, after the call was dispatched at 1:26 a.m., a fire truck responded at 1:35 a.m. and a second truck – one with the paramedic – arrived at 1:37 a.m. A call for additional assistance was placed at 1:40 a.m., and because no D.C. ambulances were available, Prince George’s County responded to a mutual aid request, D.C. fire officials said. However, a D.C. ambulance became available at 1:42 a.m., and D.C. fire said the D.C. ambulance reached the scene at 1:55 a.m. – before a Prince George’s County ambulance got there.
The ambulance that did transport Ford was from D.C., not Maryland, according to D.C. fire. The ambulance from Prince George’s County was not used and returned to Maryland.
D.C. fire also cited a high volume of calls at the time as well as a high number of personnel out sick as the reason why an ambulance wasn’t available before 1:42 a.m.
Furthermore, what Ford’s family believes was a bill for $700 was a notice from the billing contractor requesting insurance information and permission to file an insurance claim, according to D.C. fire.
D.C. Fire and EMS does not generally comment on specific patient cases due to privacy issues, officials said, but they commented Thursday due to “inaccurate” information in newspapers, broadcasts and on social media.
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Stabbing victim transported in DC fire truck New Year’s Eve. Ambulances & medic units not staffed. Lack of planning & high sick leave use cited.97 comments
The D.C. Fire Department found itself in a crisis situation New Year’s Eve when more than a 100 firefighters called in sick. At least 11 ambulances went unstaffed and supervisors were forced to ask for help from Prince George’s County.
One man died waiting for an ambulance and a stabbing victim was transported to the hospital in a fire truck.
The Firefighter’s union denies it was behind a coordinated sick out and says the trouble New Year’s Eve could have been avoided if the department had staffed up as it did in recent years.
Ed Smith, the head of the union, says the department is choosing cost cutting over public safety.
That’s a claim the chief denies.
If you called for an ambulance in the District of Columbia New Year’s Eve you were likely left waiting for quite some time.
Multiple sources with internal department documents to back it up say ambulance crews were in constant motion crisscrossing the city trying to keep up with the demand.
On Lang Place Northeast, Fire Engine 30 transported a stabbing victim to the hospital because an ambulance wasn’t available. It’s highly unusual for a patient to be transported on a fire truck.
At a home on 44th Place Southeast it took 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Prince George’s County for a man in cardiac arrest.
A relative says the man later died.
Chief Kenneth Ellerbe declined to point any fingers over the large number of firefighters calling out sick but admitted it was highly unusual.
“Today we have 26 people out sick” said Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, “but it could be members waited because they have an option to use sick leave three times a year without going to the clinic, it’s called our minor illness program, New Year’s Eve, it could be our members wanted to be off or they were sick.”
Chief Ellerbe described the man power shortage as a challenge rather than a crisis and says he attempted to find replacements.
He asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety to waive the cap on overtime that prevents some firefighters from working extra hours.
“My understanding is he talked to the mayor and (City Council Chairman) Phil Mendelson” said Chief Ellerbe, “and there was an agreement that if we relaxed the cap we would do it for just this instance but as it turned out only two members took advantage of it so it doesn’t make sense for us to talk about those kind of things as opposed to just working together to make sure these things don’t happen again.”
Chief Ellerbe says when the department went looking for extra help New Year’s Eve 48 out of 50 fire fighters turned the department down.
It’s no secret the firefighters union and the Fire Chief have been at odds.
It was just about a year ago a room full of firefighters turned their backs on the Chief and walked out of a state of the department speech he had just given.
In 2010 the District put a law into place limiting the number of overtime hours a firefighter can work.
A law the firefighters union would like to see abolished.
The union says firefighters who want to work are prevented from doing so because of the law.
New York snow coverage from FireTruckBlogs.com, here, and Firegeezer, here and here
Sources said the demotion of Chief John Peruggia relates directly to the department’s problems in responding to the storm.
His replacement, Abdo Nahmod, captained the first combined Fire-EMS station, in Rossville, in 2003-04. Most recently, Nahmod has been deputy assistant chief overseeing the department’s Emergency Medical Dispatch.
“Despite Chief Peruggia’s dedicated service to this department, I felt new leadership was needed at this time,” said Cassano, a resident of Huguenot. “Last week’s blizzard presented tremendous challenges for the department that are currently being addressed with an eye toward improving performance.”
A source told the Advance that a rumored 70 percent of FDNY ambulances working in the storm got stuck in the snow, while private ambulance companies fared far better. At one point, there was a backlog of more than 1,300 emergency calls for assistance. In the case of a woman with a broken ankle, the wait stretched to 30 hours, and a child born unconscious at home was declared dead later at the hospital.
“We didn’t do the job we had wanted to do, that I wanted to do and everybody else wanted to do,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said.
Mr. Peruggia did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday. But Patrick Bahnken, president of the Uniformed E.M.T.’s, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors F.D.N.Y., said Mr. Peruggia was being blamed for mistakes that were not in his control.
“I believe that there were some system failures that were certainly beyond his pay grade, and that he simply did not have the authority to make decisions or not make decisions,” he said. “Ultimately I am sure that the commissioner is going to continue to do a thorough review, and we anxiously await the final report when the commissioner is prepared to issue it. Certainly we will be looking at it very carefully.”
The breakdown came as the city is in the midst of overhauling its fragile 911 system — which is still using outdated radio and dispatch equipment — a project years in the making that is behind schedule and that city officials have said would provide dispatchers with better technology.
Federal prosecutors have also opened an investigation into the response by the Sanitation Department amid allegations of a work slowdown. But Mayor Bloomberg — despite his strong criticism of the E.M.S. response — has defended the Sanitation Department, denying that any intentional slowdown occurred. The sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, and the heads of the sanitation unions have also disputed allegations that workers deliberately botched the cleanup.
A person familiar with the matter said Mr. Peruggia also has been the subject of a Conflicts of Interest Board probe in connection with allegations he took a free trip from a vendor that does business with the FDNY. Mr. Peruggia is accepting the board’s findings and is expected to be fined, the person said.
Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced enormous dismay with the performance of the 911 system during the storm. “We take our emergency life-saving responsibilities very seriously and I’m extremely dissatisfied with the way our emergency-response systems performed,” he said a week ago Wednesday.The mayor said the city’s 911 system became overwhelmed by the deluge of calls. On Monday, the city received more than 49,400 calls to 911, the sixth-largest volume in history, resulting that night in a backlog of roughly 1,700 calls to the NYPD and FDNY. He ordered a comprehensive review of the 911 call-taking and dispatch functions, as some of the loved ones of those who died have taken to the airwaves to express their grief and anger at the city’s sluggish response to the storm.
The administration is examining, among other things, whether ambulances should have taken different routes, and whether emergency personnel should have parked farther away from scenes and walked.